Intentionality

Intentionality – the fact of being deliberate or purposive. (Google Definition)

Intention – a determination to act in a certain way (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)

Not long ago I had an interview for a position as an orientation leader for my university for the upcoming 2018-2019 school year. The interview was very laid back and consisted of three parts: an impromptu speech, a group activity, and a one-on-one interview. We rotated in groups and I just so happened to be one of the last people to take part in the one-on-one interviews. While I was waiting for my turn to go in I was thinking about my transition into college and what advice I would offer first-year students based off of my own experiences. This wasn’t my first time thinking about this, but I figured giving it some extra thought might be helpful considering there was a very good chance I would be asked a similar question. Luckily for me, that was one of the very first questions I was asked.

At first I wasn’t sure. There is a lot I would want to tell a person making such a large life transition, and a lot that I wish I would have known, but nothing I was thinking of seemed good enough. But then I remembered a quote that I had read in The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst: “Today’s choices become tomorrow’s circumstances.” I have this quote written on my calendar in my dorm, and beneath it, in bold letters, I have written, “BE INTENTIONAL.” So, when the interviewer asked me what advice I would offer a new student, I said that I would tell them to be intentional with their choices. It will be so tempting and easy to do what you want without putting much thought into your decisions because you finally have that extra freedom you never had before… I mean, you’re in college, right? But only so much time will pass before you realize that these decisions you’re making aren’t paying off in the way that you hoped they would.

As I was talking to the interviewer, I felt as if I were giving myself advice more than anything. I dedicate a lot of time and energy doing things that I know (or at least hope) will put me closer to a goal that I hope to achieve. Being intentional with my choices can be really easy when it comes to large scale decisions, but what about the smaller things that I do with little thought? Things such as the way I communicate with others, the music that I listen to, or even the people that I surround myself with seem to happen automatically, but maybe they shouldn’t.

A few days ago I asked a friend how you can know if you’re on the path that God laid out for you and she said that as long as you’re being intentional and praying about all aspects of your life – big or small – you’re on the right track.

Today’s choices become tomorrow’s circumstances, but each day is full of thousands of choices… how intentional are you being with yours?

Perspective

As spring break is in full gear for students everywhere, social media seems to be overtaken by pictures of the beach or videos of friends in exotic places. I remember clicking through photos of sandy beaches and palm trees as I sat outside… in a lawn chair… with five inches of snow at my feet and a fire as the only thing keeping me warm(ish). Needless to say, my spring break was a little different than some of my friends back home. I mean, who could turn down camping in southern Indiana in the middle of a snowstorm? It was obviously a well thought-out plan. My friends and I spent the entire trip joking and laughing about every little situation we got ourselves into (like pushing a van out of the mud at 10 a.m. or forgetting to pack lunch for a 6+ mile hike), which made the memories even greater. But at the beginning of the trip, my friend said something to me that really stuck. She mentioned how some things seem a lot bigger when you’re up close, but as soon as you step away, suddenly they’re not so large.

Maybe you think that’s profound or maybe you think it’s ridiculous, but either way, I loved it (shout out to you, Riley!). We went camping at Clifty Falls, which is right on the border of Indiana and Kentucky and very close to some smoke stacks that were part of an energy plant. From our campsite, you could see the stacks peeking through the tops of the trees, but they seemed so small and distant. But once we started our hike and were standing right next to the stacks, we realized just how large they really were. It was like being in a big city for the first time and realizing that pictures will never do justice for the enormous skyscrapers towering over you. Whether I was standing next to these smoke stacks or passing a waterfall or sitting at the top of the trail as I looked at the land beneath me, I couldn’t help but to think about perspective. I started to think about times where I was faced with a problem that felt as if it was towering over me in the same way those smoke stacks were. A problem that, when looking at it, made me feel uneasily small and insignificant. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has felt like that – who has felt helpless in the shadow of a problem looming over them. But then, like Riley said, as soon as you put things into perspective and take a few steps back, that thing is no longer as big and scary as it was up close.

I think the reason I like this so much is because we seem to quickly put things into a perspective that enhances what we see, rather than diminishes it (or maybe that’s just me?) We put our problems under a magnified glass expecting to solve them that way, rather than taking a step back and changing our perspective. Maybe that mountain you’re facing isn’t really a mountain at all, but you’re standing too close to see how to get around it.

I could have easily examined everything that happened on that trip through a lens that made the bad seem worse and the great seem not so good, but I didn’t. I changed my perspective, and even though I could barely feel my toes and I constantly smelled like fire, I saw the trip as something wonderful.

Take a step back.

Change your perspective.

What’s on your scale?

This year has been a wild ride, and it’s only March. Can anybody else relate to that? I’ve had some incredibly high moments where I felt as if life couldn’t get any better, but there have also been a handful of times where I’ve felt so knocked down that I couldn’t even see the potential for a positive outcome. It’s as if 2018 has been this weird roller coaster where all of the insane lifts and thrilling drops have happened in the first five seconds and I’m left wondering what more the architects could have possibly designed for the rest of the ride.

Earlier this week, I went camping for four days with some friends from college in Clifty Falls in southern Indiana. It was cold, snowy, and crazy beautiful – an adventure I wouldn’t trade for the world. On Thursday morning we all packed our bags, cleaned up the site, and went our separate ways to enjoy our last few days of break at home before going back to school. Normally, the drive would only be a little over two hours for me to get home. However, feeling confident in knowing where I was and how to get home, I turned my GPS off after about an hour. Bad idea. That “easy two hour drive” turned into a tedious four hour drive on back-roads and weird highways and me not knowing where I was until I was twenty minutes away from home. But, on the brightside, those four hours turned into prime thinking time.

Once I figured out I was lost, I turned on some worship music in hopes that it would help me to not stress over something so small. I started talking to God (because what better time to pray than when driving and lost hours away from home?) and I said something that I didn’t expect to say, and even though I was the one who said it, it had a pretty decent effect on me. I said, “God, please help me to understand that the weight of this boulder is nothing compared to the weight of life’s pebbles.” Okay, reading this I can see how it doesn’t make a lot of sense out of context. What I was talking to God about was how the two weeks leading up to break I was kind of struggling. I may have mentioned in previous posts how they were pretty rough weeks and even though I was doing what I could to stay positive, it was a challenge. However, I’ve always been one to talk about life’s little blessings – the things that make life worth it but we so often look over because they seem so small compared to the big things. But think of these little, happy things as pebbles – small and seemingly insignificant. Think of the big things, the things that feel like constant weight on your shoulders and seem incredibly large and important at the moment, as boulders. Now, place each of these on a scale. On one side, you have this boulder that’s representing your struggle, whatever it may be, outweighing the other side by mass proportions. Now, one by one, start throwing on the pebbles. A pebble for each of life’s blessings – for each good thing in life. Random acts of kindness, each of your friends and family, beautiful weather, the smell of fresh coffee, cheesecake, etc. Anything you can think of that brings you even the slightest bit of joy.

As I started to think about this, I quickly realized that the combined weight of the pebbles was much, much greater than that of the boulder. I think we get so caught up in looking at the scale and seeing the boulder as something big and scary that we forget the amount of control we have over that scale. Sure, the boulder is heavy and it will take a lot to outweigh it, but there’s a reason people write books like Happiness is… or 14,000 Things to be Happy About. It’s because there are so many beautiful things in life that are easily overlooked. But as soon as you look at them and add them to your scale, you’ll quickly realize that the good really does outweigh the bad.

Scattered

Have you ever seen a movie or t.v. show or even real life where a person is running through a hallway, rushing to get to a class or a meeting with stacks of paper, a cup of coffee, and other miscellaneous items in their hands, when all of a sudden something happens and they trip, sending the paper and everything they were holding flying, only to scatter everywhere? I feel like life can be like that sometimes… or a lot of times. Just when you think you’ve got things under control enough to get to where you need to be, something sends you flying. Maybe things weren’t exactly “under control,” but they were being handled.

Something about this semester has me feeling like that person who just tripped. Last week, I got caught with a terrible cold and had to cancel an important interview because I just couldn’t leave my dorm. Then, I drop my phone as I’m walking back from class, breaking it and leaving me phoneless until I go home next week. On top of that, I have two very important interviews on the same day, it’s midterms, I accidentally scheduled two presentations for the same day… the same Friday, and then a personal issue comes up that leaves me at a complete loss for how to respond to the situation. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel like God looks down at me and thinks that I can handle more, when in reality, I’m still trying to pick up the papers from the last time I tripped.

But then I remember a conversation I had with a few of my friends a while back. We were talking about a similar topic – about whether or not God gives people more than they can handle. It’s something I’ve thought about a lot, because there have been plenty of times where I have been overwhelmed and wondered why or how I got into such a situation. But during the conversation with my friends, I was reminded that life never gives you more than you can handle. God never gives you more than you can handle. Sometimes you’re just given what feels like too much to help you realize just how strong you actually are – just how much you can actually handle. If you’ve ever worked out or trained for something, you know what it’s like to have a goal in mind that at the start feels impossible to reach. Runners start out with a mile a day, but strive to run a marathon. Weight lifters start with just the bar, but aim to lift hundreds of pounds. Musicians start with scales, but dream of playing sonatas. We start out small all the time and work our way to become something so much greater. The only difference between those examples and the everyday growing that happens in life, is in life we don’t always set such explicit goals – we just grow stronger.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the chaos of our lives that we don’t realize the strength that we’re gaining from lifting the weight of life. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with taking some time to wallow in self-pity and complain about all that life is throwing your way – sometimes we just need to get that negativity off our chest. But at some point, we need to look at the wreckage of our lives and realize that the best thing to do is build from it. When you’ve tripped and the papers you’re holding scatter every which way, take a deep breath, pick up the papers, and walk it off. You’ll be okay.

It is well

When I was in high school I was very active in band and choir. I played clarinet for roughly seven years and I sang in the choir for two. In my time in the music department, I’ve heard and played a lot of songs that have spoken to me on a level that can only be reached by music or literature. However, no piece has touched me more than “On a Hymnsong of Phillip Bliss” by David Holsinger. If you have ever heard the phrase, be it in song or poem, “it is well with my soul,” this song is inspired from the story behind that phrase.

In the late-1800’s, a man was planning a trip for he and his family to go to Europe. Right before the time of departure, the man was needed in Chicago and had to stay in the states to take care of some business, but he decided to send his wife and daughters on the ship to Europe as planned and he would follow them later on. However, after a few days, the man received a phone call from his wife who had landed in Europe informing him that the boat had been struck during its journey and sank within minutes – only she and a few survivors had made their way safety, his daughters not being a part of that few. Soon after, the man got on another ship to join his wife.

The story goes that as the ship was sailing overseas near the point where his daughters had drowned, the man was overcome with grief but turned to God. Here he was, in the midst of heartache and despair, turning upwards to God and saying, “When peace like a river attendth my way / when sorrows like sea-billows roll / whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to know; / it is well, it is well with my soul.”

I played this piece at least once a year for three years in a row, and every time I played it I found myself in tears. There’s something unbelievably powerful about a faith so strong that it can give you peace at a time where peace seems unthinkable. I know everyone goes through heartache and they experience pain on different levels than the ones around them, but how often, in the midst of that hurt, can you remember turning to God and thinking that it is well with your soul? For three years now, this song, this poem, and this story, are a constant reminder to me that while trials may come and hardship will bear it’s way into my life, I know I will always be reassured of God’s support in my helpless state and it will always, always, be well with my soul.